Ruban's blog: Divided Attention
"It's not fair". The soundtrack of our (parenting) lives, the title of my memoirs, the last line on the end credits scene at my funeral.
When you have siblings, life is just not fair. Whether you're the older one who loses out on attention to a cuter, newer version 2 or 3.0, or the younger one whose stuck playing Duplo when everyone knows Lego City is where it's at. I grew up having a sibling, one that was six years younger, and our relationship suffered as a result of having parents unable to treat us equally, leaving us divided. Being the first child, and possibly being a son, there were some conscious and unconscious bias towards me in my favour. Supposedly minor things such as being asked an opinion on something first, or having first refusal on dinner options, to being the password of choice for my parents' various online accounts. It was difficult to know at the time what kind of impact it would have on my younger sister's life, which I am sure was difficult enough to navigate at the time, but it had clearly left an imprint of feeling second best. From my perspective, it was something I was aware of but I neither played up to it, nor did much about it due to my own malfunctioning moral compass.
Becoming a parent for the second time in 2020 had me and my wife thinking about how to bring up these two boys without them wanting to come to blows with each other in 20 years' time. We made grand plans about taking the new arrival to the same classes we happily went to with our eldest, sharing chocolate equally to see them run a fair race to cross the obesity finish line together, to act as 'Speakers of the House' to give them both equal airtime to air their views on domestic politics, and to give them each an episode of their choosing as a trade-off to us getting a ten minute breather (why aren't Lego City episodes longer?!). All those misguided, good intentions were blown to smithereens by a little known (at the time) virus called COVID and then the personal tragedy of losing my mother-in-law and then my father-in-law being struck down by a stroke. All these things meant our equal opportunities agenda was down the pan. Unfortunately, our youngest, who was 9 months at the time, suffered as he battled for attention with his grieving and distracted parents and an increasingly curious two, going on three-year-old brother. Impacted like so many others, our youngest was unable to interact with other children in the same way his older brother did. His world was largely the house we lived in and the people who loved him most but were unable to give him an enriched life experience at that age. He grew ill frequently and, as we later discovered, had hearing difficulty which hindered his development. Life was looking increasingly unfair for him at that point and though much of it was out of our hands, we felt guilty for failing him so soon.
Fast forwarding to present day and upon reflection, I do think it was unfeasible for us to treat them the same and perhaps unfair to put pressure on ourselves to do so. Aside from the circumstances we faced at the time, the youngest always has 50% less attention at the same point in time as his older sibling did as a consequence of arriving second. It was always set up to be a different experience. It sounds like a raw deal, but from a 'glass half full' perspective, it also means he has more attention and love than his older brother did because there are now three people to share that love for him. On further reflection, are they not two individual little people, with their own needs, motivations, likes and dislikes? How could they be treated exactly the same? Somewhere along the line, the water was muddied between giving them the same experience in order to appear fair and giving their individual personalities room to grow. We have tried to stop beating ourselves up about it and be mindful of who they each are and embrace the 'differences' between them and their life experiences to date. Mind you, they'll need to understand the concept of 'timeshare' if they want their grubby mitts on my one and only Lego Optimus Prime figure.
Ruban is a husband to one amazing wife, father to two wonderful young boys, and a willing slave to all three. When he is not dancing around with a child on his shoulders or ferrying them around on piggyback, he can be seen attempting to kick footballs, save worlds on his Playstation and occasionally audit some things for a lucky City insurance firm.